Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
It seems incongruous to talk about Non-Violence or Ahimsa at a time when the whole world is torn asunder by violence all around. Even in our own Assam, which was a very peaceful state about a decade back, we see violence raising its ugly head time and again. Now the situation is such that not a day passes without some incident of violence. The youths of Assam (our hope of the future) talk with bullets and knives—rape, shooting, looting, stabbing have become the me of the game. We are living at a time when one doesn’t know when, how, why or where he is going to be hit. Precious human lives have become a dime a dozen and we have become unbelievably callous regarding all these incidents of horror.
Every day we hear about these cases of violence—and we shrug them off with indifference. Each morning you are fed with the staple diet of extortion, murder, rape, robbery and other horrid tales by the newspapers. You sip your morning cup of tea and glance at these tales of horror and turn over the next page with a yawn—yet these stories would have frozen us with shock some years back. But now we don’t even turn a hair, that’s what we have become within the span of few years, some unemotiol mass with a heart of stone. Unless some of these incidents are directly connected with us or our families, we remain totally indifferent to them. How sad really if you think about it—the highest product of evolution—supposed to be the image of God on earth—has turned into a selfish callous lot. What a fall down from divinity!
Under the circumstances talk about non-violence is like water off a duck’s back. The hot-blooded youth would certainly ridicule this harping on an obsolete notion. But those of us, who belong to the pre-independence era, surely remember nostalgically the magic of non-violence, which once acted as a talisman in waking up the people of India. And some of us do feel that now is the time to revive the notion of non-violence—if we want to salvage—what is left out of our humanity— which is treading the path of utter self-destruction. This is the land of Buddha, Mahavir, Guru k, Sri Caitanya and a host of saints, who spread the message of love and non-violence, which was followed by Mahatma Gandhi, who gave a new meaning to Ahimsa or Non-Violence.
Mahatma Gandhi was a deeply religious man—though not a bigot. For him Truth was God. As he said, “I don’t care for God if He is anything but Truth”. And for him Truth and Non-Violence were so closely connected that it was not possible to separate them. He stated, “I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and Non-Violence are as old as the hills”. He often said that he had no desire to create a new sect. He believed that sects are generally created not by prophets—but by their followers.
Gandhiji’s theory of non-violence was obviously influenced by Buddhism and Jainism—but his theory had a distinctive character of its own. The usual meaning of non-violence is ‘non-killing’——but in a wider sense it implies ‘non-injury’. It can be said to be the opposite of ahimsa or violence. Himsa implies killing or injuring somebody out of anger or for some selfish interest. His theory was not as rigid as that of Jainism, which declared that under no circumstances violence may be approved. But Gandhiji asserted that under certain special circumstances violence is not only permissible—but it is also uvoidable. He said—”Taking life may be a duty. We do destroy as much life as we think necessary for sustaining our body. Thus for food we take life, vegetable and other things, and for health we destroy mosquitoes and the like by use of disinfectants etc, and we do not think that we are guilty of irreligion in doing so—for the benefit of the species we kill carnivorous beasts—even manslaughter may be necessary in certain cases. Suppose a man runs amuck and goes furiously about sword in hand, and killing any one that comes his way, and no one dares to capture him alive. Anyone who dispatches this lutic will earn the gratitude of the community and be regarded as a benevolent one”. Thus we find that Gandhiji gave a new interpretation to the notion of non-violence and he clearly gave a practical twist to the concept—and he certainly knew what he was talking about. For him killing or injury can be regarded as violence only if it is performed out of anger, malice, pride, selfishness or other bad intentions. It follows that a non-violent act must be totally free from all these wrong mental attitudes.
Gandhiji believed that man is a combition of body and spirit—and as spirit he is essentially non-violent, since ahimsa is an essential aspect of his ture. In fact, he said that violence is alien to human ture; it is only because of our inherent weakness, selfishness, appetite and passions we act out of character and take the path of violence.
According to Gandhiji, Ahimsa is nothing but love and love is the energy that cleanses one’s heart and uplifts him. Love embraces such noble feelings like benevolence, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, generosity, sympathy and the like. To apply these into practical life we have to cross many hurdles put across by our lower self. It is easy to hate, but difficult to love—and to love your opponent is still more difficult. That is why Gandhiji declared that non-violence is meant for the strong and never for the weak. Violence is essentially an expression of weakness. A weak person arms himself because of fear against real or imagiry enemies. A violent person brandishing a revolver or a knife may appear to be brave and strong—but actually it is not so—his action arises out of fear, in the opinion of Gandhiji. Only that person, who has truly conquered fear, can be non-violent. Gandhiji asserted that the capacity to kill is not a sign of strength, but the capacity to die is the real strength. Mahatma Gandhi proved his strength through his own death—when he fearlessly fell to the bullet of the assassin. Time and again he asserted that for practising non-violence one has to rise above fear and he has to stick to the truth whatever may be the consequences.
Non-violence for the Mahatma is a dymic process which spurs one to act. He was not one of those arm chair preachers—forever moralizing from his ivory tower. He was the first to practise what he preached. Non-violence also implies sacrifice and suffering. Gandhiji asserted that sacrifice is an indispensable companion of love and love means self-transcendence. Only those people, who have been able to rise above self-interest, can love sincerely. They believe in ‘giving’ and not in taking. Gandhiji said, “Love never claims, it ever gives. Love ever suffers, never resents and never revenges itself’. That’s what we mean by self-sacrifice—which turally implies suffering, which is so necessary for victory in the battle of life. Self-sacrifice ensures our self-respect and sense of honour and a non-violent man must practise forgiveness to the highest degree.
Mahatma Gandhi said that non-violence is a weapon to fight evil forces and with sincerity and purity of mind the non-violent man may conquer the whole world. One supreme condition for the practice of non-violence is an unflinching and living faith on God. Hence belief on God was supposed to be indispensable for the non-violent man.
When we look at the present era, we find to our dismay that we have come a long way from the Mahatma’s ideals. Our degradation is near complete and we have utterly lost our values and have reached the lowest of the low. Only occasiolly we remember Mahatma and his theory of non-violence, which is regarded as absurd by the youths of today. Mahatma Gandhi’s Ramrajya is in shambles and it is regarded as a utopian dream of a visiory. Peace has remained ever elusive and the non-violent India is going through a blood bath. Even in our own peaceful and tranquil Assam, the mighty Brahmaputra has turned red with the blood of the victims. Women, old enough to be mothers, are getting raped by young people, money is stched away in broad daylight, women and children are being shot in their own homes, little minor children are being kidpped and people are getting killed at the drop of a hat.
Mahatma’s ideals turally do not impress the present generation, who believe only in hedonism. People believe only in money power—their strength lies in bullets. Everyone is for himself—and none is there to think for others. Mahatma Gandhi threw out the mighty British with his only weapon of non-violence—and in his India we are taking the path of violence as easily as ducks take to water. Where will all this end? Perhaps Gandhiji was right in saying that non-violence is not for the weak. We know how to kill—but do not know how to die.
Many people ridicule the theory of non-violence and say that a non-violent man is a passive noncommittal person without any definite aim. But for Gandhi “non-violence does not mean meek submission to the will of the evil-doers. It means pitting one’s whole soul against the will of the tyrant. Working under the law of our being, it is possible for a single individual to defy the whole might of an unjust empire”.
Gandhi also conceived non-violence as a kind of activity. It is not to be regarded as an attitude of passivity of a resigned spirit. Ahimsa is a dymic process of persistent effort to restrain oneself from doing injury to others. It needs tremendous will power and extreme patience. But patience is not ictivity; it is a continuous effort to make the opponent realize his mistake. turally non-violence involves sacrifice and suffering according to Gandhi. Suffering purifies the soul. Sacrifice, according to Gandhi, cannot be separated from love. A truly loving person believes in giving and not in taking.
Gandhi said that a truly non-violent man loves even his opponent and must have faith in his essential goodness. Without this faith suffering would be meaningless. Gandhi further believed that non-violence, conceived as love and suffering protects one’s self-respect and his sense of dignity. Such a person practices forgiveness to the highest degree.
Ahimsa, according to Gandhi, can be practised universally—by children, youth and old alike. It needs only a sincerity of purpose and purity of intention. But for practicing Ahimsa another important fact is very necessary—that is an unflinching faith on God. Ahimsa needs an inner strength of character, which is generated by God. A sincere faith on God makes man realize that all human beings are essentially one. Thus love of God turns into love of humanity, which alone helps in the practice of Ahimsa. Therefore the Mahatma tried to establish peace in the world through his doctrine of Ahimsa.
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)